Kevin Cowherd: Ravens' picks fill needs — but not with household names

Team took players from football hotbeds such as Temple, Delaware, South Carolina State and Cal Poly

April 28, 2012|Kevin Cowherd

Let's begin with the premise that no team ever comes out of the NFL draft and says: "Well, that didn't go very well."

No team ever says: "Boy, we really screwed that up. What were we thinking?"

Instead, every team says it had a productive draft. And got exactly the players it wanted. And is (pick one) thrilled, ecstatic, euphoric to have them.

So what are we to make of the Ravens' 2012 draft, now that the whole thing is finally over? (Tell me, can the league and the TV networks drag the draft out any further? Talk about three days that go on forever. I can't close my eyes without seeing Mel Kiper's hair. And Roger Goodell hugging someone.)

Here's the bottom line: the Ravens drafted a lot of players who provoked a "Huh? Who's he?" response from most fans.

They drafted guys from schools that aren't exactly football powerhouses, like Temple (running back Bernard Pierce) and South Carolina State (safety Christian Thompson) and Cal Poly (cornerback Asa Jackson). They even drafted another guy from Delaware — sorry, Joe Flacco — in guard/center Gino Gradkowski.

But with their track record of finding value in the middle rounds, of taking projects and turning them into big-time players, we have to assume they know what they're doing.

"To me, if you look back over the three days and what we've been able to do with our football team — you all knew the areas we wanted to address — I think we've been able to do it," general manager Ozzie Newsome said.

Well, we'll find out soon enough.

I like Courtney Upshaw — a lot. Some experts said he was the steal of the draft. But some of that may have something to do with the Ravens rep.

I say that because when the Ravens trade out of the first round, it's automatically assumed they have some brilliant strategy in mind to draft a hidden gem.

But Upshaw, the outside linebacker from Alabama the Ravens took in the second round (35th overall), looks like the real thing.

He's big, strong, explosive. They'll play him at strong-side linebacker and see if he pushes starter Paul Kruger. Good. Someone needs to push Kruger. And I don't say that to be nasty.

Competition is the life-blood of the NFL. And Kruger needs to step his game up. He needs to prove he can replace Jarret Johnson and be an every-down player who can stop the run as well as rush the passer.

If he can't, maybe Upshaw takes over. We'll see. I was hoping the Ravens would make a bigger play forDont'a Hightower, the inside linebacker from Alabama who might have someday succeeded Ray Lewis.

But New England took him with the 25th pick in the first round. Bummer for the Ravens. Still, Upshaw is a solid choice.

I also like Kelechi Osemele. He's the big (6-5, 333 pounds) Iowa State tackle the Ravens took in the second round (60th overall). He's got the wingspan (85 1/2 inch) of a condor and huge hands to lock on a defender and control him.

And Osemele sounds ticked he wasn't taken higher, too.

"I'll just use that as a motivator more than anything to help fuel me when I first get in there and try to prove everybody wrong," he said."A nd hopefully 10 years from now, I'll still be there and be playing."

Nice. The Ravens love players with a chip on their shoulder. He's probably not thrilled to hear certain scouts labeled him soft, prone to weight issues and with a questionable work ethic, too.

Pierce, the kid from Temple taken in the third round with the 84th pick, will compete for the backup running back slot. This wasn't a huge need for the Ravens. Sounds like he was a "best available athlete" pick.

Gradkowski, the 6-3, 300-pound guard-center from Delaware taken in the fourth round (98th overall), gives them more depth on the O-line — a top priority. And with guard Ben Grubbs gone and center Matt Birk on his last legs, Gradkowski's versatility could be a huge plus.

And who seemed more excited than than Gradkowski — a Pittsburgh native, no less — to be wearing the purple and black?

"It's a perfect spot for me," he said. "Come in and maybe play guard my first year and eventually take over at center. And that's what I was looking to do — get in behind a veteran like Matt Birk. I'm really excited to meet him and pick his brain about football."

Thompson gives the Ravens depth in the defensive backfield, as does Jackson, whose blazing speed could be used to return punts and kickoffs, too.

Tommy Streeter, the big wideout from Miami taken in the sixth round, sounds like a project. (He's big and fast, but started only seven games last season.) And DeAngelo Tyson, the Georgia defensive lineman taken in the seventh round, rounded out the rest of the "Huh? Who's he?" picks.

So give the Ravens credit: they attempted to address a lot of needs in this draft. Were they successful? Who knows? We'll start to find out in a few months.

Maybe this will make Ravens fans feel better: all eight of the team's draft picks last year made the 53-man roster.

That's the best I can do right now.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

twitter.com/kevincowherdsun

Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays at 7:20 a.m. on 105.7 The Fan's "Norris and Davis Show."

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